Living in Erith feels a bit like living in the past – in a good, nostalgic way, not in an actual ‘lack of equality and technology’ way. Children still play in the streets, people know not to grass on one another and no one judges you for being a shameless alcoholic.
This is a town that has whole-heartedly rebelled against Thatcher’s assertions that there is no such thing as society. In Erith we club together to steal wifi from the offices next door that have naively failed to password protect it. We have paddling pool block parties to which even the most reclusive top floor residents (ahem, totally not me) are invited and welcomed.
Yet in spite of this anachronistic sense of good will for your fellow man (or perhaps because of it) Erith has a less than perfect reputation.
I once struck up a drunken conversation with some girls on the night bus home from New Cross and they gasped when I said I was getting off at Erith. They repeatedly asked if I would be OK and if there was anyone that could pick me up from the bus stop. I told them I was a grown-ass woman and that for their insolence, I’d be taking back the chips I’d given them. Fools. Have fun staggering back from Bexleyheath – no one’s got your back in that pit of consumerist nightmares.
I’ve lived here for over a year and although I’ve heard rumours of violence from people clutching Waitrose coffees, and heard the occasional police car, I’ve never witnessed anything worse than being cat-called outside a pub. Don’t get me wrong, cat-calling is bad, but I’m not about to write off a whole town for it. I am very much of the impression that, as with most places, if you mind yer own and don’t get lairy, you’ll have a pleasant time and will be able to enjoy some of the rarer qualities this town has to offer.
Erith seems quite extraordinary to me. There are things I’ve witnessed that my friends and family do not believe. This is partly because I lied a lot as a child (I really did see my toys move, like in off of Toy Story) but also because some of these things are absurd.
In my first week living in Erith I saw a pig in a car. A pig. In the front seat of a car. Just jammin’, hanging out, driving along with his human companion. I concluded that the people of Erith are either incredibly cool, or that kind of thing happens a lot. I prayed for the latter and my eyes have been peeled ever since.
Sadly, I never saw that pig again (it must be an annual thing, like Christmas. Perhaps it was for Christmas.) but I have noticed that Erith regularly smells like satay sauce and that there is a mighty array of street art. This ranges from my personal favourite, the childlike scrawl of the word ‘Bitch’ on the side of a building, to council-funded pieces like the Thames barge mural by the old docks (see main image above) or Arthur Mitchell’s Erith Mural.
The (locally) famous Fish Roundabout just about passes for street art. It stands as a bastion of hope for the lost coming off the A206 and either represents Erith’s favourite pastime of river fishing, or stands as a Darwinian reminder of our origins. I’ve yet to discover which – the council won’t take my calls any more.
It’s not all pigs and fish in Erith, though.
Were you to spend a day in our humble zone 6 town, and were you one of those strange outdoorsy types, you would find some of the South East’s least appreciated beauties. Unappreciated, mind, because no one knows about them, not because they’re shit.
To share these wonders with those of you owning only a zone 1-5 travel card, I took some time to amble around and appreciate what Erith has to offer. I usually only rush through it on the way to work, or stumble home to wake up my neighbours when I drunkenly lose my keys, so this was a bit of a treat for me.
Our journey starts, as with civilisation and cholera, at the river. The river at Erith is actually the Thames, so we can sing along to London Calling without lying. Local signposts along the river will tell you that Erith was the royal dockyard for Henry VIII and has been a place of interest since the Saxons named it ‘Old Haven’, or ‘Earhyth’. A word of caution though, while pausing to contemplate these historical facts: Don’t forget to look down. We are a free folk in Erith, so free that many of us disregard the draconian Dogs (Fouling of Land) Act, 1996 – not to mention the Environmental Protection Act – and allow our dogs to shit where they like and leave it to nature to clear up.
Dog shit aside, the river is beautiful. The area is decorated with bunting and wind turbines (which I like to consider monolithic, man-made flowers) and if you are into fishing, there’s a bait and tackle shop down the road so you can park your load and join the others trying to catch fish and old boots.
If rivers aren’t your thing and you’re a bit of an old goth like me (or, you know, religious), it’s worth visiting the graveyard at St John the Baptist church, a pastoral oasis amongst the industrial sites and motorways. Once inside, sheltered from reality by a canvas of trees and foliage, it’s so peaceful you could momentarily forget what lies beyond and pretend to be William Blake, if you’re inclined to the pretentious.
At the other end of the riverside there’s the local playhouse where my Nan’s mate, Dez, does am-dram opera. Definitely worth a look in I’d say, but on the way up make sure you stop at The Ship, one of the two local pubs in town.
I was initially a bit apprehensive about visiting The Ship (this is where the aforementioned cat calling happened) but once inside everyone is welcoming and friendly. The drinks are cheap (£9.70 for a round of three) and it has a pool table, darts and cards as well as an excellent smoking area complete with a BBQ. If you can look past the fact that it’s decorated like a teenager’s bedroom with Oasis and Bruce Lee posters on the wall and painted bright red, it’s not a bad little boozer. If the bedroom vibe puts you off however, I recommend The Running Horses.
Significantly larger than The Ship, The Running Horses has been trading since 1938 and is not to be confused with the old Cross Keys pub which actually did feature running horses a few years back, when some of the local travelling community rode their horses inside the place, in what can only be described as a radical interpretation of the ‘Pets Welcome’ sign.
The Running Horses is an incredibly welcoming family pub, decked out in an eclectic array of saddles and other horse-related paraphernalia. It has a jukebox, a well-lit pool table and all the other mod cons you expect from a good pub. There’s ample room for smokers outside and if you’re not too fussy with what you drink, a pint of Fosters is only £3.30. My mates and I made a friend for life inside, who told us all about the times he’d nearly died and offered me pity for not having kids. Nice lad. He’d lived an awful lot for someone a year younger than me, though.
You may hear rumours that Erith is a shithole, but the people that say that have clearly never been here longer that it takes to go to the big Morrisons. For me, it’s served as a merciful escape from the gentrified parts of London that seem to only have a place for trust fund babies. You don’t have to work in media or get into a fight with Shia LaBeouf in the smoking area (I’m looking at you, New Cross) to feel you fit in here. You just have to be here and be decent to other people to feel welcome.
When I tell people I live in Erith they still gasp, like those girls on the bus, and tentatively say that they’ve heard there are some quite nice parts. To these dear wankers, who fear the proletariat and panic if there isn’t an M&S Simply Food nearby, I say it’s all nice parts.